Get Your Advice About Spawn Bags From An Expert
You might think that fishing with spawn bags for steelhead or trout is as simple as just putting it on the hook and throwing it out there, but there is a whole lot more to it if you really want to catch more steelhead and these tips from a professional guide will show you how.
Spawn bags are one of the best baits when fishing for trout and steelhead in rivers. Spawn bags can be tied in many colors and sizes to attract more fish. Spawn bags can be made with salmon eggs or trout eggs and anglers using spawn bags will often catch the most fish especially if they know these tips from an expert river guide.
As a top river guide, I discuss over 10 tips and give advice that can help you catch more steelhead or trout using spawn bags. These are tips that I usually only provide to my clients and friends to help them catch more steelhead.
Most of your questions about using spawn bags for steelhead and trout will be answered on this page.
Spawn bags are also known as roe bags which you may hear me call them, or they are known as, spawn sacs, roe, roe sacks, spawn, spawn sacks, eggs, or eggs sacks. Whatever you call it using eggs or roe for steelhead and trout can be really effective if you use them right.
The loose fish eggs are called roe or spawn.
What Are Spawn Bags?
Spawn bags are usually trout or salmon eggs tied into a fine colored mesh or netting and they are used to present multiple eggs to trout and steelhead as bait.
Why Are Spawn Bags Considered The Best Steelhead Bait?
The simple answer is that spawn bags work! Since spawn bags catch a lot of steelhead, salmon, and trout they are the most popular bait, but there are reasons why spawn bags work so well and there are ways to make them work even better.
These are 5 reasons why spawn bags work so well for many anglers and these are some of my opinions and ideas why spawn bags are so effective for many anglers.
#1. BIG PROFILE – Spawn bags are a big profile bait which means that spawn bags stand out like a sore thumb, which may be a reason why most anglers catch more fish on spawn bags.
Small baits get missed by fish sometimes or they blend in with all the debris that is drifting down the river, but a spawn bag is a big meal that is hard for a trout or steelhead to pass up and a well-presented spawn bag can entice even nonactive steelhead, trout, or salmon into eating it.
#2. SCENT – I don’t believe steelhead, trout or salmon feed based on scent alone or even at all, but most anglers believe that spawn bags are so effective because unlike other baits, spawn bags have a scent that the fish pick up on.
I believe steelhead, trout, and salmon feed based on sight more than anything else so the scent from a spawn bag is almost irrelevant after a minute or two in the river.
How else would you explain why a pink-colored spawn bag will outperform a peach-colored spawn bag sometimes? If both spawn bags were the same eggs and smelled the exact same to the fish, then both spawn bags should work equally as well, but that’s rarely the case.
The color, which is a visual thing, can make all the difference some days and I have seen fish hit a pink spawn bag all morning and by noon they won’t touch anything other than a white spawn bag or a blue spawn bag. This is why I don’t think the scent is a factor at all and that the size and the color of the spawn bag are more important to the fish.
I also feel that after the first few casts most spawn bags lose all their ability to scent. Also, many guys use commercial egg cures which I bet don’t taste or scent anything like real fresh eggs in a spawn bag, but those commercially cured eggs still work quite well regardless of the scent and it’s simply because they look the same.
Guide Tip – The exception to my scent theory is that a fresh spawn bag will milk, or scent heavily on the first drift or two and that may work to your advantage, and it’s not uncommon to hit a fish on the first or second drift of a new spawn bag.
Because of this, I tell my clients not to put on a new spawn bag and drop it at their feet before they cast it because all that sent is now at your feet and not out where the fish and your spawn bag are. Instead, DO NOT let that new spawn bag hit the water until it’s in the line that you want to fish.
Also, popping an egg in your span bag after 6 or 7 drifts will also create an abundance of fresh scent which may also work as a good tactic for more fish, and it’s not uncommon for my clients to hit a fish immediately after popping an egg.
#3. ROE SINKS – An important factor for catching more steelhead is to get your bait into the strike zone fast and to keep it there for as long as possible.
Spawn bags tend to sink, therefore they get into the strike zone better than some other baits which may be why anglers will catch more fish using spawn bags. Learning how to get any bait in the strike zone is better than just relying on a bait that sinks.
#4. SPEED – Speed control is critical for catching more steelhead, salmon, and trout with any bait!
Anyone that has learned from me knows that I consider the speed of your bait in the strike zone to be one of the most important things to master if you want more steelhead, trout, or salmon in the net with any bait. But what does that have to do with roe bags?
I believe that many anglers drag their baits too fast through the strike zone and they don’t catch many fish because of it. I have seen it hundreds of times where one guy is catching a bunch of fish and the other guy is catching none, and when I watch the two anglers closely to find out why the difference, the guy catching few fish is almost always presenting his bait to fast through the strike zone.
I believe spawn bags are like little parachutes in the water. Their big round profile tends to drag and slow the bait down which unknowingly allows for a slower, more natural presentation, and that slower presentation is probably another reason why spawn bags catch more fish.
I think it’s much better to learn how to slow all your baits down and present them well than instead of relying on your bait to drag. Learning how to slow all your baits down, including your spawn bag will help you catch more steelhead. See more about presenting your bait better for 10-times more fish on my Centerpin for Beginners page – HERE
#5. FISH HOLD ON – I believe anglers miss subtle hits all the time due to poor presentation and some artificial baits get picked up and spit out fast.
With spawn bags, I think a steelhead may hold onto a spawn bag longer or the mesh of the bag may get stuck in their teeth longer which gives anglers a better chance of hooking the fish. For this reason, spawn bags are a good bait for many anglers.
Learning how to present your bait better so that you can detect a strike faster should be your goal and will even increase how many fish you catch on your spawn bags.
What Are The Best Eggs For Spawn Bags? Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Or Salmon?
There are a lot of guys that will tell you that one species of eggs is better than another.
I know guys that will travel 2 hours to get to a river that is known to have tons of migratory brown trout just so they can get enough brown trout roe to use as bait simply because they think brown trout eggs are by far the best type of roe to catch steelhead. But is it?
Other anglers will tell you that in the fall when the salmon are in the river you MUST use salmon roe, and when the steelhead are spawning in the spring you MUST use rainbow roe.
And then there is the question about Chinook salmon versus coho eggs, or brook trout eggs, or even Arctic Char eggs?
To be honest, once the eggs are tied into a roe bag I rarely find it makes a big difference. I have experimented for years where one of my clients would use salmon eggs, and another client would use rainbow eggs, or brown trout eggs, or even brook trout eggs, and most of the time there was little to no difference between one egg over another as long as they were all cured the same way.
Of course, there’s going to be a bunch of guys that just read that last statement and thought, “man, is he wrong!” And I’m fine with that because everyone has a right to their opinion and if one type of egg works better for you then great, go for it.
But rest assured I likely have a few thousand more days on the water and have had far more opportunities to experiment than 99% of the guys on the water today, and I have yet to see one type of egg consistently catch more fish than another. So for me to say yes, one type of egg is better than another isn’t possible. Most of the time if one egg is catching more fish than another it’s likely because of how well the angler is fishing it.
What really matters is that you are confident in whatever type of egg you are using at the time and that you present it well to the fish. But, keep in mind, the way you preserve, cure, and store your eggs can make a big difference.
Is Fresh Roe Better Than Store Bought Roe?
The answer is that it really depends on how the store-bought roe is cured.
Stores often need to have roe that lasts a really long time in their fridge so that it doesn’t go bad and so they don’t lose money.
It also needs to last long after their customer buys it or they will have angry customers. Therefore store-bought roe is sometimes chemically cured or packed in oil to make it last a long time, but is that a good thing for fishing?
Roe that you harvest yourself doesn’t need to be cured at all, I just let it sit in river water for 5 minutes to harden a bit, then I just pack it into jars or bags and freeze it. It’s that simple and it always works great for me.
Store-bought eggs that come from a fish farm and that are lightly cured with salt are as close to not curing eggs at all, and based on my experiments there is really no difference between eggs that you harvest from a fish at the river and the eggs in the store that are harvested from farm-raised fish and are salt-cured.
One thing I would say is that I do prefer fresh roe that is not cured or roe that is only salt-cured and that they have always produced more fish for me and my clients than all the other ways of curing eggs.
If you are going to buy roe from a store I recommend the salt-cured roe and I also recommend getting loose roe that you can tie in the appropriate sizes and colors for the river conditions that you are faced with.
GUIDE TIP – Buying pre-tied spawn bags may mean they might be too small, or they might be the wrong colors when you arrive at the river. Some guys, like me, will experiment on the river with big and small spawn bags and with different colors, and once I find what is working best I will tie up my spawn bags at the side of the river.
Is Cured or Non-Cured Roe Best?
I briefly discussed that I personally prefer non cured roe over cured roe and so do most anglers I know. As long as you store them properly, your non-cured eggs will last a week or two in the fridge or even a couple of years in the freezer.
The only advantage of curing your eggs is that the eggs may last longer in the water and the eggs will last much longer in the fridge and freezer.
What Is The Best Way To Cure Roe?
I have experimented with many different egg cures and the best roe cure and the only one that I would consider using now is a Sea Salt Cure. I put my eggs in a bowl with salt and leave them there until they float. Once they all float they are ready to be used or stored.
Salt preserves the roe in a more natural way and helps the roe last longer both when storing it and it may prevent the eggs from turning white prematurely when you use them in colder water. Plus if the fish swallow salt-cured eggs it won’t harm them like some commercial egg cures might.
What Are The Best Commercial Egg Cures?
There are a number of commercial egg cures on the market that will preserve your eggs and even color them if you want. The two I like the most and would recommend if you wanted to make your eggs last longer are Pro-Cure and Pautzke.
Are Spawn Bags Packed In Oil Any Good?
Some stores will sell roe in jars that are packed in oil, or at least they used to. In my opinion, these eggs leave an oil slick and I have had very little success with them and I would not use them at all.
What Are The Best Spawn Bag Colors?
This is a two-way question and answer because it can either mean what color mesh or spawn net should you use, or it could mean should you use eggs that are dyed.
Some egg cures have a dye in them to color the roe darker or lighter shades and some guys prefer to change their egg colors.
I prefer the natural color of the eggs and to use spawn netting to give the eggs some color.
In certain conditions like when the water is stained or dirty, a colored egg may be beneficial, but just about every skilled angler that I know does not use color dyed eggs, and instead they all stick with the natural color of the eggs.
If I want to add color to my spawn bags I use what they call spawn net. The spawn net color that the eggs are wrapped in can be very important because the fish can be very selective at times.
I use different color netting or different types of netting for different water clarity which I also call visibility, so it’s important to understand water clarity first.
The way I explain or rate the color and the visibility of the river is important to know so you can pick the right color roe bags.
How I rate the river and what color roe bags that I would use under these conditions is like this:
- DIRTY WATER – If I can only see 8 inches or less into the water and the water is brown I consider this to be very dirty and un-fishable. Best Netting Color – Chartreuse, Red, Hot Pink
- OFF COLORED – 8 to 14 inches of visibility and slightly brown is off-colored or slightly dirty water with low visibility, but it’s possible to hook some fish in this type of water. Best Netting Color – Chartreuse, Red, Hot Pink, Yellow, Bubble Gum Pink, Fire Orange, Orange.
- GREEN WATER – 14 to 24 inches and a greenish color as seen in the picture is what I would consider medium visibility and is often when the fishing goes from tough to really good. Best Netting Color – Yellow, Pink, Orange, Salmon.
- Clear Water – 24 to 36 inches of visibility – can be good fishing. Best Netting Color – Salmon, Peach, White, Blue, Light Purple.
- Very Clear Water – looks like tap water it’s so clear and you can see deeper than 3 feet. Best Netting Color – White, Peach, Blue, Purple
Spawn Bag Color
Spawn Bag Size
Clear Water - over 30 inches of visability
peach, white, blue, light orange, salmon, light pink
2 to 3 salmon eggs. Dime Size
#10 or #12
Medium Clear - up to 30 inches of visibility
yellow, pink, orange, salmon, hot pink, chartreuse
Dime sise to Nickle size - 4 to 5 salmon eggs
#8 or #10
Dirty - less than 12 inches of visability
chartrueuse, red, hot pink
qurter to dollar size - 5 to 8 salmon eggs
#6 or #8
What Is The Best Spawn Net?
Spawn net can comes in rolls, cut squares, or scarves and also comes in different hole sizes as seen in the picture.
I use and prefer the Blackbird Spawn Net which is seen on the right side because it comes in a wider mesh that shows more of the eggs but still gives the eggs a bit of color.
Blackbird also has a fine scarf type net material that has smaller holes which is seen on the bag and material on the left inthe picture. This finer netting gives the spawn bag more color covering more of the eggs.
Some anglers believe that this finer scarf mesh gets stuck in the teeth of the fish better and provides more hookups which I think is very possible. Another bonus of the scarf is that it comes in colors that you can’t get elsewhere like the light purple and a yellow color that has worked well for me at times.
I will use both types of netting but normally I only use the scarf in Chartreuse colored for dirtier water because it has more color.
If you prefer pre-cut spawn netting you can try the Atlas Brand Spawn Net.
What Is The Best Spawn Bag Size?
The size of the spawn bag is important and fish can be selective on the size of the roe that they eat. Just like the spawn bag color, the size of your spawn bag should also be based on the water clarity.
- Dirty Water – Low visibility – Big spawn bags that are the size of a quarter or a dollar coin are best.
- Green and slightly off-colored water with medium visibility – Big spawn bags can work but I usually tie bags from the size of a nickel to the size of a quarter.
- Clear Water – good visibility – Dime sized spawn bags are best.
- Very Clear Water – Dime sized spawn bags (2- 3 salmon eggs or 4 to 5 trout eggs) or even single eggs are best.
Should You Use Floaters In Your Spawn Bag?
Spawn sac floaters are mini styrofoam balls that you put into your roe bags so they float.
There are times when your spawn bag should sink and there are times when you want your spawn bag to float.
If you are drifting your spawn bag under a float then you want it to sink and get down into the strike zone and stay there. Your float should suspend the spawn bag just off the bottom.
If your style of fishing is to bottom bounce your spawn bags, having a little bit of flotation is a good thing to keep the bait up and off the bottom. Adding a few colored floaters to your spawn bag will do the trick.
If you surf fish the lake or prefer to let your bait sit on the bottom of the river with a heavy lead weight while you wait for a passing fish you should also add floaters to your spawn bag to keep it off the bottom.
You can get the spawn sack floaters that I use – HERE
How Do You Hook A Spawn Bag?
Proper hooking of the roe bag can mean more fish.
I like to hook on the roe bag so I do not break any eggs and I like to make sure the hook in on one side of the bag so that it is hidden on all side except that one side.
I insert the hook between the eggs so I don’t break any eggs and then out, catching only a small portion of the mesh. Then I try to turn the point in and gently place the point of the hook into the roe bag in a spot that will not break an egg. Done! Video and Pictures coming soon.
What Are The Best Hooks For Spawn Bags?
There are a lot of decent hooks out there and there are some that are just crap.
There are also better sizes and better shapes that will improve your hook ups and landing ratio.
I will say that you want a hook that is not too big or not so heavy that it weighs your roe bag down too much or stands out like a sore thumb.
- Raven Sedge Hooks – Bronze – for low water and clear water conditions and smaller bags. This is a thin hook that hides well on the spawn bag and doesn’t weigh it down but it may bend on big fish and heavy lines over 10lb test. For most steelhead rivers I prefer a size 8 or 10 hook. This hook is not recommended for salmon or big rivers with fast flows. You can get them HERE.
- Raven Specialist Hooks – This is a wider gap hook that hooks and holds well and is the one in the picture. It is not too heavy or too light and is a good all-around hook for roe bags. I use this hook for most of my fishing and guiding for steelhead and salmon. I prefer a size 8 or size 10 for most small to medium-sized rivers. For bigger or dirtier water I may go to a size 4 or 6. Get them HERE.
- Raven Wide Gape Specimen Hooks – This is a strong hook that holds well when I need that extra strength for really big steelhead or salmon and on the fast big water rivers and when I am using a heavier leader. Even the smaller sizes can be excellent for smaller roe bags in smaller water. You can get them HERE.
Wider gap hooks tend to hold on better and don’t tear out of the fish’s mouth as often. I also don’t believe colored hooks are better.
You may have also noticed all the hooks I have recommended are from the Raven company. Raven specializes in river fishing for steelhead and I was on their pro staff for many years so I know these hooks very well, but there are other great hooks that I like a lot like these Gamakatsu Octopus hooks or these Owner SSW Cutting Point Hooks.
As long as your roe bag hook has the right shape, size, color, and are quality hook brands that are sharp and don’t bend or break, I say go for it. Just don’t be a rookie and use the cheaper gold hooks.
When Should You Change A Spawn Bag?
I change my spawn bags if they start getting beat up with broken eggs or when they start fading color and turning white. Sometimes the same spawn bag is good for 2 or 3 fish.
Guide Tip – A simple and easy tip that I give to all my clients is to take the point of a hook and gently poke a hole into one of the eggs in the spawn bag after 6 or 7 drifts. This allows that egg to slowly release scent for a few drift, then do it again and again until the roe bag is too small. Just make sure you aren’t squeezing the egg when you do it or make sure that it’s not pointing at your otherwise all the juice inside the eggs may squirt you in the face.
Other than the first drift, popping an egg is the only time I think that the scent of a roe bag will play a part in catching more fish.
How To Tie A Spawn Bag?
There are a few ways to tie a spawn bag and a few devices that may make it easier for you along with some materials that make tying bags much faster. See the upcoming video and a full page on all about tying roe bags – Coming Soon.
Should You Throw Out Old Roe? When Is Roe To Old To Fish?
I have had roe in my freezer for 5 years and it still worked well. I have also used roe that had gone bad from sitting in my vest or in my car for too long and it was so stinky it almost made me puke when I open the container, but I still caught fish on it.
I read an article years ago from a guy that claimed he caught more fish on old stinky spawn bags than on fresh roe. He would purposely leave his spawn bags out to go bad before he would use them. Ever since then, I started keeping old gross roe and using it for at least a few cast to determine if it worked or not before deciding to throw it out, and in my opinion, it almost always works.
For humans, once a food goes bad the taste and smell are enough to keep us from eating it and from making us sick. But, like my dog who will eat a 3-week old ham sandwich on the sidewalk and would love it, and not get sick, I think fish are the same. The fish will eat it based on sight, maybe scent, and because they can without puking or getting sick.
So before you go through a bunch of old stinky spawn bags out, put them on a hook and give them a try, providing you can tolerate that smell!
How Long Does Roe Last?
In the fridge un-cured fish eggs should last about 10 days before getting to stinky.
Salt cured eggs and eggs using a commercial cure might last a few weeks in the fridge.
As far as freezing eggs, I have pulled out non cured salmon eggs from the freezer after 3 years and caught fish on them, and the cured eggs should last a year or two longer.
I also freeze, thaw and freeze my eggs over and over again with little to no problems.
The only thing I will stress is that once the eggs get freezer burn they may be slightly deflated, look whitish inside, and they may not work as well. This can happen with both un-cured and cured eggs if they are not stored properly.
How Should You Store Fresh Roe?
Whether you use zip lock bags or bottles, I highly recommend storing your eggs in 1 to 3-day serving sizes so that you don’t have to thaw out 2 pounds of roe in a big jar just so you can tie up 20 bags.
I will also tie up spawn bags a freeze them for quick and easy-to-go roe bags. However, doing this too many times seems to dehydrate the eggs and may make your roe bags a bit saggy over time.
Can You Freeze Roe Multiple Times?
Yes, you can freeze fish eggs 4 or 5 times.
But, I do find that too many times may dehydrate the eggs or cause freezer burn which is why I try to limit how many times I refreeze my roe bags, and is why I always freeze fresh roe in single day use sizes.
That way most of my roe from the same fish won’t need to be thawed out and then refrozen.
Summary – Spawn Sack Tips And Advice
As you can see there is a lot more to fishing with spawn bags than just putting it on a hook and chucking it into the river. If you make some adjustments, use the right sizes and colors, and use the right hooks you will catch more steelhead, trout, and salmon on spawn bags.